Pro­test­ers rally in Rus­sia on Putin’s birth­day

Demon­stra­tors heed op­po­si­tion leader’s call

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Vladimir Isachenkov and Irina Ti­tova

MOSCOW — In a chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on his 65th birth­day, pro­test­ers ral­lied across Rus­sia on Satur­day, heed­ing op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny’s call to pres­sure au­thor­i­ties into let­ting him en­ter the pres­i­den­tial race.

Po­lice al­lowed demon­stra­tors in Moscow to rally near the Krem­lin in an ap­par­ent de­sire to avoid mar­ring Putin’s birth­day with a crack­down. A big­ger rally in St. Petersburg, Putin’s home­town, was dis­banded by po­lice after pro­test­ers blocked traf­fic and at­tempted to break through po­lice cor­dons.

The ral­lies came as Navalny him­self is serv­ing a 20-day jail term for call­ing for an ear­lier un­sanc­tioned protest.

In Moscow, sev­eral hun­dred pro­test­ers, most of them stu­dents, gath­ered on down­town Pushkin­skaya Square, wav­ing Rus­sian flags and chant­ing “Rus­sia will be free!” and “Let Navalny run!” Po­lice warned them that the rally wasn’t sanc­tioned and urged them to dis­perse, but let the protest con­tinue for hours with­out try­ing to break it up.

Mostly teenage pro­test­ers later walked down Moscow’s Tver­skaya Street to­ward the Krem­lin, shout­ing “Putin, go away!” and “Fu­ture with­out Putin!”

Po­lice lines blocked them from ap­proach­ing Red Square and they turned back. Sev­eral hours later, some made a new at­tempt to march on the Krem­lin, shout­ing “Putin thief!” and briefly at­tempted to block traf­fic.

“We bat­tle for Rus­sia to be free from Pu­tin­ism. Be­cause the power we have now is feu­dal, we have no free­dom of speech, no free­dom of choice,” said pro­tester Stepan Fesov.

The au­thor­i­ties’ de­ci­sion to re­frain from break­ing up the Moscow protest con­trasted with a more force­ful re­sponse to pre­vi­ous Moscow ral­lies called by Navalny, when po­lice de­tained more than 1,000 demon­stra­tors. Po­lice also didn’t in­ter­vene at first with a big­ger un­sanc­tioned rally in St. Petersburg, where nearly 2,000 gath­ered at Marsovo Pole park and then marched across the city chant­ing “Rus­sia with­out Putin!” and “Putin, re­tire!”

Shortly after, po­lice broke up the demon­stra­tion, de­tain­ing nearly 40 after some tried to break through po­lice lines.

One de­tainee, Ma­rina Buk­ina, said she was in­jured in the head when a po­lice of­fi­cer hit her with a club.

After the St. Petersburg march was dis­banded, sev­eral hun­dred pro­test­ers con­tin­ued ral­ly­ing for hours at the down­town Vosstaniya Square as po­lice stood by with­out in­ter­ven­ing.

Dmitri Lovet­sky The As­so­ci­ated Press

Riot of­fi­cers de­tain a pro­tester dur­ing a rally Satur­day in St.Petersburg, Rus­sia. Sup­port­ers of op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny ral­lied across the coun­try.

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